While the New York Yankees were quiet this offseason up until the lockout, they did make some small moves. One of those moves was acquiring infielder T.J. Rumfield and pitcher Jose Valdez from the Philadelphia Phillies for RHP Nick Nelson and C Donny Sands.
Rumfield was selected in the 12th Round of the 2021 MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Virginia Tech University. In his one year at Virginia Tech after transferring from Texas Tech, the 21-year-old left-handed hitter had a slash line of .315/.402/.478 with seven home runs, 37 RBIs, and he had more walks (26) than strikeouts (23).
Before being drafted by the Phillies, the first baseman took part in the MLB Draft League last year and was a part of the Trenton squad. In 22 games, he hit .271 with five doubles, a home run, and eight RBIs.
Rumfield doesn’t have much experience in professional baseball, but he did finish last season with Low-A Clearwater. His debut actually came against the Tampa Tarpons. While he did not hit a home run in 27 games, Rumfield had an .OBP of .426 and he drew 21 walks in 101 plate appearances.
We had the chance to talk to Rumfield after he was traded to the Yankees. He discussed joining a new organization just months after being drafted, how he prides himself in playing defense, and what piece of advice does he carry with him from former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel:
Ricky: Where were you when you found out the Yankees traded for you and what was your reaction?
TJ: I’m back home in Godley, Texas. I was sitting in the living room with my family and some of my cousins and my uncle when I got the call. I got the call from our player development for the Phillies and he told me that I was traded to the Yankees and I kind of just sat there for a second because I really didn’t comprehend what was happening. He said someone from the Yankees organization will be reaching out to you in a couple of days and he wished me the best of luck.
This was my first year of professional baseball. I never saw the business side of things like that, but it could happen so quick. I didn’t think I had really taken it in all yet because I didn’t have any Yankees gear yet. Once I get to Tampa and go to the spring training site and put the pinstripes on, it will all kick in then.
I was definitely excited and I am ready to go on this journey.
R: Are there any nerves about joining a new organization after being with just one organization for three months into your professional career?
T: I’m not so much worried about it. I’m eager to learn because I know there is different ways of doing things in different organizations have certain ways they do things. My job is just to know what the Yankees want and how they want it and hopefully I could put the best product out there on the field.
Baseball is baseball. It hasn’t changed for 100 years, so I think playing my game and I think the Yankees will respect that and like that because there’s obviously something they liked because they decided to trade for me.
R: Did you have any communication with the Yankees before the draft in 2018 or in 2021?
T: I didn’t talk to them so much out of high school, but definitely in this past draft, I talked to the Yankees. The area scout that was covering me in Virginia reached out and I know they were interested days before the draft because they were asking me what I wanted and all that. Just happened that Philly was able to grab me before they could. I don’t know if they had any plans in the draft to actually take me, but I’m glad it actually worked out this way.
R: How would you evaluate how your 2021 season went?
T: I think it is definitely harder than the college level, but it is a grind because you do it everyday in professional baseball. In college, you might play midweek and a weekend series, but at least you are playing the weekend series and you are all juiced up. Once you are in professional baseball, you play everyday, so you kind of have to find that edge, stick to a routine. It is definitely more routine-oriented. Being able to go about your business and get your work done is the major thing I picked up after the draft that taught me I need to be able to find a routine, stick to it, and show up everyday.
R: How would you evaluate your game if you had to give a scouting report on yourself?
T: I would say I am a big left-handed bat. I like to drive in runs. I can hit the ball out of the ballpark even though I haven’t shown it yet, but I can do it and I’m going to do it. I can play infield and outfield no matter what. I just want to be in the lineup.
My defense at first base is what I pride myself on the most. The defensive aspect of the game and getting to shut a game down from that side of the field because you aren’t always going to go 4-for-4 with the game-winning RBI. Sometimes, you are going to have to make a diving play or get a pick. Just little stuff like that. I play hard, I play everyday, and I want to give it all no matter what, play the game the right way, and go about my business.
R: Last year, you had more walks than strikeouts. Is that something you look to accomplish when you get to the plate?
T: I have never been one to like to strikeout and I don’t really accept striking out as much I am able to accept other things that happen in this game. I should be able to put the ball in-play pretty much every time. Just having the good at-bats, working the walk, working the pitch count. I pride myself in knowing the strike zone. Being able to separate balls and strikes is a big part of my game. My eye at the plate definitely helps.
R:During the COVID 2020 pause, what was one aspect of your game you primarily tried to strengthen?
T: COVID was kind of crazy for me because I was at Texas Tech, then I decided to jump into the transfer portal. I ended up landing at Virginia Tech. One of the main things that year was seeing pitches because I didn’t get many at-bats throughout the year, get my timing down and really work on trying to become a complete hitter. Now that I am a little bit older, I can focus on things that need to be honed on and not so much mechanics and stuff like that.
R: How do you think playing in the ACC helped you prepare for professional baseball?
T: It’s top-tier baseball in the ACC. You see guys go in the 1st Round every year because the talent and competition are there. I think the ACC only elevated my play because it was always just one of those things where you wanted to perform against North Carolina, Florida State, Miami. I think the ACC helps you with the baseball competition, but also that feeling where I have to go out there and do my job or my team loses and that’s not ok.
R: What is the best advice you have received from a hitting coach?
T: Jeff Manto told me this summer when I was in the MLB Draft League for the Trenton Thunder, which used to be the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees. He was my manager and his big thing came from Charlie Manuel, who I actually got to me in instructs. Know thy self and what that means is you can’t go out there and hit .300, you have to be the best you you can be. The game comes to you, you can’t force anything.
R: Take me through your decision to play in the MLB Draft League and what would you say you learned in that league?
T: Competition was there too. It’s not the ACC, but there are guys there who could play in the ACC that were at small schools and didn’t get the publicity or notoriety. Every guy I faced was 90+, good 2nd pitch, maybe a 3rd pitch. Playing in the MLB Draft League, I just wanted to play. I’m a baseball player. I just played 60 games in a season. We didn’t make the NCAA Tournament and I just wanted to play baseball. I could have played in the Cape Cod League. I had a team in the Cape I could have played for, but I played in the MLB Draft League, I was able to play everyday, and I definitely enjoyed my time in Trenton.
R: How would you describe your game on defense?
T: I’m always in tune with every play, where should I go with the ball before the play happens. I haven’t played professional baseball very long, but I’ve played baseball pretty much my entire life. Defense is a big part of the game because you are trying to get 27 outs and not let up many runs. I think defense is a huge part of the game because I like to minimize and I like to take runs off the scoreboard from the other team just by playing my position and playing it correctly.
R: How exposed were you by the Phillies to analytics?
T: I think at Texas Tech, it wasn’t analytically driven because the guys they all get there are ready to go. When I went to Virginia Tech, they thought about these things differently. We had a guy named Kyle Sarazin who works with the analytical department at Va Tech and he has all these interns who did the analytics for us. Trackman, Rhapsodo, whatever. Them telling me stuff I wanted to know as a player, what my bat speed its, exit velocity is. Just stuff like that and break down and dissect. Another thing that helped me was knowing the strike zone because it was so focused in our drills in our program. I think that really helped me develop into a better hitter and more all-around baseball player.
R: When you were at Clearwater last year, you had the chance to play the Yankees affiliate in Tampa. What were your impressions of that team and have you heard from any of those players who might be your teammates next year?
T: I haven’t heard from many of the guys, but guys like Trey Sweeney, he was really impressive. Jasson Dominguez really impressive. Tyler Hardman, he was another impressive one. I think definitely against the Yankees you wanted to show up and play and play good because when you are not a part of the Yankees, you want to beat the Yankees.
It’s kind of one of those things where my first series was against the Tarpons in Tampa and that’s when it set in that I’m playing against the guys that could be in Yankee Stadium one day. You don’t really think about that until the offseason, but I think playing against the Yankees is something different. From the outside in, they run their organization first-class. You can tell the Yankees really are a first-class organization.
R: If I turned on one game you played that you would say best describes you as a player, what would it be?
T: I would say we were playing this past year against Miami and we didn’t expect to win against Miami. It was our first ACC series and on a Friday night, I played a really good first base and I actually hit a home run. I just remembered we won by one run and I remembered that home run felt so good. It was also one of those things where that’s what I can do as a baseball player. I can make an impact not only with my bat, but with my glove as well.
R: What is your offseason routine like?
T: I don’t think it ever stops. After I got done with instructs, I went home and worked out because I haven’t made it or anything, so I don’t have time to take too much time off. I took a week off to go to Blacksburg to go to that last football game. From now until February, it’s 5 days a week working out. Just trying to get my body in preparation. I know I will be ready for spring training, but all the months after that, I want to be healthy and strong and be able to play my best baseball by the time October comes around.
R: What are your goals for 2022?
T: Just show up and try to make a mark somewhere. Really trying to impress scouts, advanced scouts, and everyone there evaluating me showing them I can play at the highest level. One day, I want to be up in the big leagues whenever that happens. I want to show up to spring training and be able to impress some folks.